Thirteen years of my life have been spent at GDS. Around the age of eight, I was introduced to the term “GDS bubble.” The bubble refers to the idea that our school is a political echo chamber in which almost all students are liberal. Additionally, the school’s curriculum keeps the majority of students from the reality of what lies outside of the school’s atmosphere of unanimous politics.
My grandmother has always believed that the GDS curriculum makes students, specifically students who belong to minorities, believe the world is a more united place than it actually is. The curriculum and culture throughout all of my thirteen years here have emphasized that GDS was the first integrated school in D.C. and has a majority left-leaning population. Because of GDS’ progressive history, the school has become a community in which nearly everyone holds progressive views.
The classes students take, specifically English and history, mainly focus on left-leaning views. The English department prides itself on the diverse authors it presents in our curriculum, but it largely fails to include literature that is politically diverse. Politics play a big part in literature; even though some English classes do include writing from non-liberal authors, I have never been in a class where we explicitly talked about the author’s political stance. Even all of the school’s assembly speakers that I’ve witnessed have been Democrats. Isolating students from other points of view creates the idea that people who are moderates or right-leaning do not exist. This is not what GDS should be trying to teach; it is far from the truth.
The administration handles the school’s progressive mission poorly. The school was founded on inclusivity but its curriculum doesn’t even teach us about views outside of our community’s liberal ones. I agree with most views community members hold, but I also acknowledge that cutting us off from real-world viewpoints that are nuanced and not radically left can be harmful in preparing us for the real world conversations we will encounter later on. I was so ignorant to the fact that I was blind to these views that, if you had asked me before this summer if I thought the GDS political bubble existed, I probably would have said no.
In July, I attended a pre-college program at Northwestern University. A big emphasis of the program was that the students attending were diverse; the students were from four different countries and about 30 states. I was bound to meet someone different. The people I met at this camp forced me to recognize the bubble I live in and to burst it.
The most fascinating person I met was Roman from Irvine, California, who came from a right-wing family. While Roman himself did not associate with the right—nor any party—his parents did. But his parents didn’t view the Republican party in the way someone at GDS would because they did not feel forced to stay silent about it.
I had never met someone who proudly admitted to their parents being on the right. As we became friends, I learned more about Roman’s personal life. He revealed to me that his parents are racist, homophobic and anti-vaxxers. When he told me this, I honestly thought he was playing some kind of joke, because at GDS, it is very normal to make jokes about people who associate with the right, and it is very abnormal for people to actually have those views. For me, people like Roman’s parents have only ever existed online or in stories. But they are real people. I felt unsettled being in such a close proximity to their ideas, even though Roman explained to me that he didn’t agree with them.
He also told me about his Christian school where students are explicitly told that if they identify with the LGBTQ+ community, they will be kicked out. I thought it was possible that maybe he lived in his own kind of bubble, one in which he was only exposed to right-wing ideas. But he proved me wrong when he was not surprised at my description of the liberal ways of GDS.
“Have you only ever met people that have the same viewpoint as you?” Roman asked me. This question has been on my mind since then. Not everyone at GDS agrees on everything, but compared to what’s out there, we are all pretty similar in our thinking. At times, I felt awkward being friends with Roman because I had never been friends with someone without a political stance, and on top of that someone who had parents who were radically right.
GDS has failed its students; we have not been given the tools to know how to work or interact with the right side of politics. Even though the views Roman’s parents held were offensive to me, it was unpleasant and uncomfortable not knowing what to say because I’ve been so isolated. There is no doubt that every student will need the skill in life to be able to talk with people who differ from them.
If the administration wants to live up to GDS’ mission statement of commitment to diversity, then it must start exposing students to non-liberal views. For minimester, history teachers Lisa Rauschart and Sue Ikenberry offer a course called “View From the Other Side” where right-wing and moderate speakers are brought in to talk to students. Similarly, the Civic Lab has launched efforts to help expose students to non-liberal opinions. These programs are a great and simple way of exposing students to what a realistic political world looks like; teachers and administrators at GDS should use it as an example of how to show students other political viewpoints.
The GDS bubble has a looming effect on my life. It does keep me from the hateful extremes of the world, but there are many flaws that exist within the bubble. Sheltering students isn’t always the best way to create a safe environment. My experience at Northwestern was surprising, but I am thankful I experienced it. I was able to self-reflect by realizing that I live in a politically unrealistic environment, and finally, after thirteen years at GDS, to get a taste of what the real world is actually like.